There’s some serious food momentum in Studio City. Adding to its existing list of local favorites, the booming San Fernando Valley neighborhood recently scored Barrel & Ashes, Joan’s on Third, and The Gadarene Swine. And on Tuesday, Maradentro, the latest potential hot spot to hit Ventura Boulevard, opened. This is the first of two planned outposts (the second will be in Eagle Rock) for the new mariscos concept from executive chef Jose Acevedo and restaurateur Jesse Gomez, whose partnership previously brought us Mercado.
“I think this is such a great street with so many restaurants and bars,” Gomez says. “You have a built-in crowd here because of Laurel Tavern, Lala’s, and Black Market. It’s a great pocket of Studio City, and the attraction was to be next to these great restaurants.”
The menu for what Gomez calls “a new-school Mexican seafood place” mixes traditional ingredients and new flavors, including starters like lobster guacamole; a play on Oysters Rockefeller dubbed Oysters Rajafeller done with spinach, rajas poblanas, and queso añejo; and Crabiqueso, a crustacean-ized version of Mercado’s mouth-watering Choriqueso—yes, chorizo is still involved.
Main dishes include Fideo del Mar, seafood-topped linguini with veggies, queso cotija, and chipotle cream, plus steak and lobster tacos. For those who don’t do seafood, the chef’s popular carnitas are also available.
Acevedo thinks that the chile relleno, filled with shrimp, scallops, mussels, whitefish, and clams, will be a customer favorite.
“Personally, I just love the chile relleno. It has a lot of flavor. I think it’s very light, and I think it’s going to be one of our biggest sellers here,” says Acevedo, who grew up in Guanajuato, Mexico, and received some of his training in Wolfgang Puck’s kitchens. “We don’t batter it. Basically, we just grill it, and we stuff it with seafood and broth. It’s really healthy, and to me, the flavor and the tweak we do to the chile relleno is completely different.”
When asked why so many new Mexican restaurants are veering away from the heavier, cheese-laden combination plates that have come to be associated with the term “Mexican food” in L.A., Gomez says that the change has a lot to do with the availability of fresh ingredients.
“I think it was just a matter of time, and that the food had to evolve. It evolved to what it was years ago because that’s what was available in the ’60s and the ’70s. It’s only natural as the ease of getting ingredients changed over the years—you need chiles, you get them in a day from Mexico, or from Texas. You couldn’t do that before.” Gomez says. “I think it’s helped the cuisine because the access is better, and I think people are getting a little more creative.”
The cocktail program, directed by lead bartender Cesar Arenas, is also creative. The Maradentro Margarita is a blue-green drink inspired by Gomez asking Arenas for a margarita that “looked like the ocean.” There’s also the tequila-and-tamarind-infused Tamarindo Tea, and the SMP with shishito pepper, mango, and pisco. A sizable selection of beer and wine, including a draft chardonnay, are available, too.
“You know, years ago, Jesse and I were trying to show that Mexican restaurants are not all about nachos, enchiladas, burritos, rice and beans. That’s when we came up with Mercado, which is a little different from what a regular Mexican place is,” Acevedo explains. “I think it’s the same thing with this concept. I think there’s a lot of marisquerias, and what we’re trying to do here is bring those flavors, but higher quality.”
“I hope it’s one of those menus where every item is a standout,” adds Gomez. “I think [Acevedo] did a great job of making every item fairly unique, super flavorful, and while there’s mostly seafood, there’s a little bit of something for everyone.”
Maradentro, 11929 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-358-3423